Doc was next on the list to fledge. One late afternoon he was sitting around, the next afternoon he was gone. A neighbor who was sharing his back yard with Doc said that in the early afternoon he saw the bird doing practice flights across a couple of yards. He was gone by 2:30. I took the morning off and had a birthday lunch, checked on him a little later than usual, and just missed seeing him fledge, perhaps by minutes. The class of 2014 mostly left with little fanfare, in a businesslike manner befitting individuals who have no time for indecision, no need for hanging around a lengthy period of time to practice their flying techniques. Take too long at your birthday lunch and a chick will leave while you are gone.
Zorro had a visit from one parent 9 days before he fledged.
On a Sunday morning he walked down the golf course to the ocean bluff. Golfers did see him, but none of them paid much attention to him. Picture a large white seabird walking slowly down a fairway, largely ignored by people hitting a small ball along the grass. The game may be important in their human world, but it does not even register with any albatross senses.
He walked with the confidence of a being that feels the ocean breeze blowing his way and finally hears the message it brings to leave everything familiar and venture into new territory. This is a bird who stayed in or close to a smallish patch of uncut grass for his entire life. What is it that called him, how did he know that it was time?
Lisa, who lives here part of the year in a house that overlooks the 6th fairway saw him coming and watched him from her balcony. She knew what his walk down the fairway meant and she was not going to miss any of it. It took him a while to walk slowly all the way from his nest near Tee 6 to the bluff near Hole 6. With little hesitation, he took off. She said that from a distance it looked as though he had just stepped off the cliff.
To a human this seems to be such a brave act. Is it courageous if the actor cannot consider possible bad outcomes? Does the albatross chick feel any fear? We cannot read their minds, but I have seen chicks that spent a couple of days near an ocean bluff before running off into the air. Why don’t they always fledge immediately when they have left their homes and any hopes of future meals from parents? Is the wind less than perfect, is there some aspect of fledging that we humans are unaware of that can halt their first steps into adulthood? Or do some of them feel a fear of the unknown that others can overcome more easily?
Here is one more fledging story to confuse you.
One morning in 2006 a chick named Hanae fledged from a popular take-off bluff. Everything seemed fine, although we could not see him over the ocean because trees down below us obscured our view. By the end of the day, Hanae was sitting back in his nest, covered in little bits of shrubbery. It took him all day to walk uphill from wherever he came down. Why did he decide to go back? How did he know where to go? He was not following an ocean breeze, he was making his way back “home” over unfamiliar territory.
Hanae rested up for two days, then left again. He came back in 2011 and has returned every year since then.
Once again I feel as though instead of adding to my readers’ knowledge about these birds I am just throwing more questions at them. I always start out by sharing what I have learned, and I seem to end up by voicing my frustration at seeing my solidly woven foundation of knowledge of albatross behavior slowly being pulled out from under my feet.
Before you know it I will lose my footing and start to slide down the hill. But I think the strands of new information that I get by observing them every day and recording that data in a way that makes it easy to see their connections to each other and to Princeville will help me to keep my footing and to expand our understanding of the rich variety of behavior we can see in these birds.
This is a project worthy of lifetimes of study by curious humans.